Works for Brass,Volume 2
Any real understanding ofGiovanni Gabrieli's music is impossible without some appreciation of itscontext within the Venice of the sixteenth century, As the main trading postbetween East and West, Venice was a rich and prosperous city; guarded by apowerful naval fleet it contained some of the finest art and architecture andsuccessfully exported items of the most superb quality, including books, clothand glass, Venetians enjoyed political stability and felt genuinely privileged,with a deep sense of pride in the quality of their own standard of living andtheir ability to impress foreign dignitaries. This was reflected in theceremonial aspects of public life in which all strata of society were involved,and where the religious was healthily mixed with the temporal - Venice wasnever a close friend of the Church of Rome. Processions were regularly held onimportant civil and religious occasions; they would often be led by therepublic's ruler, the Doge, whose role was as much caretaker and guardian ashead of state; they usually began around the magnificent Byzantine Basilica ofSt Mark itself. They were of the utmost importance to the community, beinggoverned by a careful protocol dating back to the fifteenth century whichensured the greatest degree of solemnity and pomp. One of the most importantcustoms was that at least six silver trumpets should play at such events,ensuring the necessity of instrumental music to accompany all great celebrationsin and of the Most Serene Republic.
Into this splendour cameGiovanni Gabrieli; his exact date of birth is unclear, but it was some timebetween 1553 and 1556: the unclear handwriting in his obituary indicates thathe was either 56 or 58 at the time of his death in 1612. He was born into amusical family - his uncle Andrea (c.1510-1586) had worked and studied inMunich and was appointed to St Mark's in 1566 as organist, quickly becoming acelebrated composer, especially of ceremonial music, thus continuing atradition of formal music going back to the thirteenth century and one whichbecame particularly important following the appointment of the Flemish musicianAdrian Willaert (c.1490-1562) as Director of Music in 1528.
We know that, apart fromalmost certainly having lessons with Andrea, Giovanni also worked in Munich atthe court of Duke Albrecht V and, like his uncle before him, studied there withthe great Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594), probably returning to Venice afterAlbrecht's death in 1579. He deputised as organist at St Mark's in 1584 andthen again in 1585, and was made second organist and composer following theresignation of the previous incumbent, Claudio Merulo (1833-1604), who waslured to the Steccata Chapel in Parma for a higher salary .In the same year hebecame organist of the Schola Grande di San Rocco, a part-time post. He was tohold down both positions until his death in 1612 from a kidney stone complaintwhich had troubled him for over six years.
Gabrieli's time as acolleague of his uncle was unfortunately short-lived, as Andrea died at thethen extremely ripe age of 76, the year after his nephew's appointment. Theneed for a successor to continue his grand style of composition must have beenin the minds of the authorities when they gave Giovanni the job; they were notto be disappointed. Immediately he began to edit and publish his uncle's'Concerti', often written for cori spezzati or divided choirs of voicesand instruments. This was to greatly influence his own compositional style;Giovanni's genius was to fully realise the potential of their spatial techniqueand to carry it even further, As the new Principal Composer of St Mark's, hewas granted permission to hire freelance singers and players to enlarge thevirtuoso ensemble already established permanently in 1567, and he embarked on aseries of choral and instrumental works which utilised not only the galleriesof the Basilica, but also special platforms which were erected for importantfestivities, accommodating as many as five separate groups.
It would be easy to thinkof Gabrieli just as a composer of special effects, but just the range andexpression of his compositions alone is remarkable. At no time is Gabrieli aformulaic composer; he was constantly experimenting with every aspect ofmusical technique Even a cursory examination of his two main collections, the1597 Sacrae Symphoniae and the purely instrumental posthumouslypublished 1615 Canzoni e Sonate will reveal that no two works are reallysimilar. Sonority is especially important - groups of contrasting high and lowvoices are common and he may even, surprisingly, dispense with alto and tenorvoices altogether. There is both mastery of intricate counterpoint and yetimmensely impressive block chords; part writing and complex rhythms reflectboth the virtuosity and sheer musicianship of the players for whom the workswere written, and in the later works especially there is a harmonic audacitywhich pushes late Renaissance music-making to its very limits. It comes as nosurprise that Gabrieli's most famous pupil, Heinrich Schutz, said of him in apreface to a set of his own Sacrae Symphoniae, which he dedicates to histeacher, 'But Gabrieli, immortal gods - what a man!'
Giovanni Gabrieli hadtaken the grand multi-choral style as far as it could go; it was the end of anera - the Venetian High Renaissance. Claudio Monteverdi had already venturedinto opera with Orfeo in 1607 and his appointment as moestro dicappella of St Mark's was to usher in a very different sort ofmusic-making; there is sadly no evidence to indicate that Gabrieli's music wasever played there again until his rediscovery this century.
The works represented onthis, the second of three volumes of Gabrieli's complete instrumental ensemblemusic, contain many sides of Gabrieli's genius. The seemingly fanciful titlesto the works contained in the 1597 Sacrae Symphoniae (Canzon Noni Toni, DuodecimiToni, Septimi Toni and so on) do not refer (as has often been postulatedwith no real evidence) to the Church modes, but to melodic fragments based onvarious modes known to both Milanese and Venetian musicians, and which werepossibly of both musical and emotional significance. More musicological studyis needed to reveal their exact meanings but the eight toni referred to in the1610 Concerti Ecclesiastici by Giovanni Paolo Cima certainly point theway for further research.
Recently found in theGerman regional library of Kassel, the opening Canzon a 12 is for three choirsunusually divided into three, four and five parts, with both bass lines in thelatter. It contains virtually no music for each separate choir, integrating allvoices into a rich yet spacious sonority unique in Gabrieli's instrumentalworks.
Seven high tessituraparts unfold remarkably cheerful and skilful counterpoint in Canzon V,while the two five-voice groups and 'coro grave' of four trombones in the Sonata XVIII
are the vehicles for one of the very greatest works. Its dazzling chromaticintertwining and subtle wit have no superiors in the late Renaissance.
Thefour-part Canzon Seconda is one of three perfectly crafted m